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Old 02-02-2006, 17:20   #1
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lightning strikes/ avoiding them?

Every resource out there seems to have a different opinion on how to protect one's boat from lightning strikes. What's more valuable are real experiences and opinions on what seems to work or not. After cruising about near the "lightning capital" of the world (or so I'm told) in the Gulf of Mexico/east coast, Angel has shown damage from at least two strikes in the past decade. Since those scary strikes, I've installed a bronze ground plate w/ copper strap to the keel-stepped mast base and have had no more problems. so far.
Angel was damaged, nonfatally, in the past when lightning tried to find an exit after traveling down mast and along the lead ballast. It exited the fiberglass near the ballast and made a six inch wide crazed area through the fiberglass and discolored it. No holes were evident and the fiberglass was repairable with fresh stuff. In a different strike, another exit wound was though an old zinc on the hull that Angel's previous owner had installed and had nothing attached or bonded to it. (I've since removed that useless thing!) There, the lightning had crazed the gel coat and literally popped it off in about an 8-inch area. Fiberglass was okay, but repairs were made there asap. The grounding plate, on for three years now, seems to save the high voltage from cracking through the fiberglass, but I'm no expert.
It would be interesting to hear your experiences with lightning and how you avoid it. I hope to learn as much as possible to prevent any more bodily harm to my hapless sailboat who just happens to be bobbing around in a weather-prone area and seems to attract lightning for some reason.
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Old 02-02-2006, 18:02   #2
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Lightning.

Now this is a good topic to talk about. And you reminded me about this subject. Thanks rb.

That one method you said, you used is a good method. But if you were to connect copper wiring. The big gauge type of wire. You could branch them out away from the mast step. And affix the ends of the wires to the hull.

The key is not to allow the main bolt of lightning to hit the hull in one spot. To allow this to happen. Will result in a severe hole/cracks along the spot. Where the lightning exited the hull into the water. Lightning will also fry any electronics. Near the path where the bolt of lightning passed through at!!

So the key is to have a lightning rod, at the very tip of your mast pole. Attached to the lightning rod is a heavy gauge of copper wire. Running down the length of the mast pole. To the bronze/copper plate at the mast step. Then the heavy gauged wires run from the plate. To various multiple points along the hull, for better protection.

The poor man's method is the same as above. WIth one exception. Instead of running the wire down into the boat, to the mast step. Instead run the copper wire down the mast to a fixed point to where the mast comes to a stop on top of the cabin. Have a plate there. And run a large wire to the deck. With another plate. And from that plate run a chain over the side, into the water. And there you have lightning protection.

Remember this. Current runs along the least path of resistance. That is the simple rule of electronics!! And it's very true, of this nature.
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Old 03-02-2006, 08:04   #3
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lightning

Hi, this is my first post here. I thought I'd finally chime in since I've always found lightning and boats such an interesting topic. Strange how some boats seem to continuously get hit for no apparent reason, while others in the same area never do.
One thing to note, most of what we call "lightning protection" seems to be just about minimizing the damage from a strike, not really trying to prevent the boat from being hit. The idea being 'get the current overboard!' and into the water via metal conductors rather than your fiberglass hull.
So we know that electricity always follows the path of least resistance. But the big unanswered question, does it "choose" the path of least resistance? I always pondered that when watching lightning crash around me in the Lightning Capital, hitting other boats around me (one time even the boat right next to me!) while I was on my unbonded boat. With a deck stepped mast and unbonded engine and through hulls, did the lightning choose easier paths to ground through the well bonded boats?
I once worked briefly on a pwer dive boat out of West Palm that had been struck 4 times in one year, once even while on the hard surrounded by sailboats! The owner went as far as completely rewiring the boat, excellent bonding and everything, and it still got hit. There was one guy who was onboard for all 4 stikes, so I used to joke that he was the magnet, not the boat! But I became convinced it was the boat when a dazed looking reef shark one day was rolling around rubbing itself against the aluminum swim platform, apparently attracted to some stray electrical current.
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Old 03-02-2006, 08:54   #4
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Leaders

The smart guys have shown that a leader comes up from the ground to join the lightning strike. I wonder if it is possible for a boat to be doing the same thing. I think Lee Trevino has been hit three times. My boat has made a very loud hummimg sound comming from the rig while lightning was in the area. It struck land about 1/4 mile away.
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Old 03-02-2006, 09:44   #5
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Old 03-02-2006, 10:34   #6
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Old 03-02-2006, 11:47   #7
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Gord that is brilliant
OK guy's, lets first get som eperspective. To hit a target, lightening has already traveled many miles through the air. So the last few feet of a boat to ground is totally insignificant to it. It wouldn't even know the boat was there. What was there, and why the lightening hit the boat in the first place, is, as Mike has stated above, a thing called a leader. The leader is a fine hair like condutor of highly excited electrons that reaches into the sky from things. They are all over the place. That's what made Mikes boat humm, it is charged and waiting to connect. Think of it this way, charge a person with long hair on a vangagraph and their hair sticks up in the air. The same thing to some extent occurs. The thing is, the leader that the strike then follows to ground, may or may not be the one that is projecting from a the highest point. So in a marina, the boat with the shortest mast has just as much chance of being struck as the one with the tallest.
OK, so next is the damage. Once again, thew bolt has just traveled many miles through the air. It is huge in voltage and current. There is only one conductor on earth that can cope with this sort of current, but you need a vast quanity of Nitrogen liguid to keep it working if you get my drift.
OK, so think of electricity this way. You have a garden hose. Think of that as the leader. It's the path the current is going to follow. Voltage is the amount of pressure in the hose. Current is the amount of water that can flow through the hose. A bolt of lightening is like the several thousand gallon water tank supplying the hose. Lets pretend the hose i trying to fill a paddling pool at the other end. For some reason, the water in the tank just really really wants to get to the pool. (use your imagination) So as with lightening, the water tank is wanting to exit the hose in an instant. The pressure and current is so high, it simply blows through the hose and finds another way out to the pool. But it no longer has a path to follow. It will go everywhere. It may flow along the cround to the pool, but it is also going to soak you and everything else around on it's trip to the pool.

Hope that helps some.
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Old 03-02-2006, 13:37   #8
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Deck Stepped Mast plate instalation???

My boat has a deck stepped mast, but it is directly supported by a bulkhead.

I want to run a heavy gauge cable from a lightning rod down the mast, but I am unsure what to do from there.

Would I have to run that cable down to the hull, drill a hole and attach a plate on the outside of the hull?

Any good references? books, web other...

Thanks
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Old 03-02-2006, 14:52   #9
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Alan,
so what you're saying is minimize the leader effect that your boat is producing and you'll make your self less attractive to the lightning. Is that right?

Another thing,
yes the lightning has traveled many miles through air (which is an excellent insulator) so its bound to discharge through any other conductor or insulator on your boat, if the boat happens to be in the path. From that point it would be pointless to even have a lightning rod.
But yet it sill helps to have a heavy conductor grounded. My guess would be that we have no idea of the insulating properties of the air in which lightning traveled. for that matter it might have been saturated with moisture, ionized and was not as good of an insulator. if your boat hapen to be in the path it still helps if you provide as many "good", or highly conductive paths from the lightning rod to ground. You're increasing your odds of current discharging through intended channels (such as heavy gauge copper wire) as opposed to fiberglass.
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Old 03-02-2006, 15:09   #10
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Well Jon.

You got the idea of running the copper wire down the mast, to the cabin top. From there you could affix (install) a plate there. Or you could continue that same copper cable. Mounting it to the cabin top, across the cabin top. Down the side of the cabin top, to the deck.

On the deck, I advise putting a plate there. The plate will act as a connector for the next set of cable to run over the side of the boat. You could use whatever kind of connector. And have it installed onto the plate. And the wire that ran down the mast.

Now we reached this point. Lets move on.

From that plate/connector. Run your second copper cable wire over the deck, and over the side of the boat. And let the cable touch the water. Mount the cable down to the deck. In a way were if you needed to replace the cable. You wouldn't have to tear everything up.

You could place, or install a small coverplate, over the copper cable running on that part of the deck. But it's a small henderance. Compared to fixing a blown hole in your fiberglassed hull?

I hope this was of some help to you?
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Old 04-02-2006, 00:26   #11
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Hey Alan I think you're onto something. Does lightning go from positive to negative or from neg to pos? If your boat is the same polarity as the clouds, it stands to reason you couldn't be struck, eh? Could you attach a VanderGraff generator to the mast? Call it active lightning suppression. Opinions?

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Old 04-02-2006, 01:22   #12
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Kevin (Lodesman)

Are you referring to a actual operating Van de Graaff machine? One that is actually operating.

I warn you about one thing about those devices. They don't work well when the humidity is above 40%.

Why does high humidity affect electrostatic devices? Simple: it makes surfaces conductive enough to "short out" the devices. Under high-humidity conditions, insulating surfaces can behave as a dead short, almost like metal, even though their resistance remains too high to easily measure. A paradox? No.

Electrostatic effects deal with high voltage at little or no current. Because the voltage is high and the current low, even a fairly insulating object can act like an conductor when used with electrostatic devices. Ohm's Law tells us that high voltage at low current implies high resistance. For normal, non-electrostatic circuitry, low voltage at high current implies LOW resistance. Therefor we can say that "conductivity" in the electrostatic realm involve enormous values of electrical resistance, while "conductivity" in normal circuitry does not.


For example: A generator that produces 1 microamp at 10,000 volts has an inherent series source impedance of 10^10, ten billion ohms. (Compare a 1.5v D-cell, which has far less than one ohm internal series impedance.) If the source-impedance of an electrostatic generator is ten billion ohms, then any material having much less than this resistance will act as a good conductor, while materials having much more resistance will be insulators. (Compare to a D-cell, where 'conductors' must be lots less than one ohm, and 'insulators' must be much greater.)


A dirty surface in a humid environment might have hundreds of millions of ohms across its surface, yet it will act as a good conductor and can short out your generator. You must clean and dry the insulating surface so that its resistance rises to a range of *thousands of billions* of ohms across a few inches, so the generator will see it as an insulator. A wire will have a resistance of less than one ohm, yet a dirty surface, a surface which is more insulating than metal by hundreds of millions of times, will still act as a good conductor. Very strange, no? Electrostatics shows us that the meaning of "Conductor" and "Insulator" is not fixed: it varies depending on the nature of the generator or power supply, and the nature of the electrical load. Electrostatics is not the only place this occurs. For example, in superconducting systems, copper can be used as an INSULATOR. In AC power transmission, stepup transformers are used to make the long power lines act "more conductive." And in electrostatic systems, humid string (in Ben Franklin's kite) can act as a conductor.


Too dry?!
I encountered one instance where the humidity was TOO LOW for a demonstration: I opened a fresh bag of rice-crispy cereal, intending to produce a big messy "Volta's Hailstorm" effect using a VandeGraaff generator and a pie pan, filling the pan with cereal. Fortunately I tried out the demo just before the kids arrived. It didn't work. The rice crispies were too dry, acted as insulators, and refused to pick up a charge and be repelled, and so were attracted instead. Sprinkling water into the cereal box and giving it a good long shaking cured the difficulty.

Another place where humidity can be too LOW: when performing the VDG hair-raise demo, sometimes the VDG generator works fine, but long hair simply won't rise. This is probably because the hair has become an insulator, and charge is unable to leak along the hair shafts and give them an imbalance of alike-charge. Slightly humid hair is required for success; totally dry hair will cling to the head by induction and will not rise.

Blow-dryer
Always carry an electric blow-dryer with you when doing electrostatics demos in high-humidity locations. When your VandeGraaff machine fails, the usual cause is adsorbed water on the rollers and belt, which prevents the initial charge-separation from occurring where belt touches/peels from the roller surface. Pop open the sphere or the base, run the machine, then direct warm air upon each of the rollers until the upper sphere starts making sparks when touched. Don't give up, sometimes it takes 5 minutes or more to dry the cloth rollers used in the base of the WINSCO Inc. VDG. Another common problem is fingerprints and grime which make the belt and roller become conductive on humid days. Replace the belt with a fresh one. Or, remove the dirty belt, clean both sides with plenty of rubbing alcohol, then pat it dry with a clean paper towel. You want to flush the oil away, not just move it around, so let lots of alcohol dribble off. If one of the rollers is plastic, wipe it off with alcohol too. [WARNING: don't wet acrylic plastic with alcohol, it will crack.] Fully dry it by operating the belt in the machine while applying the blow-dryer. Don't wet the felt type of roller, it takes too long to dry again.

"Hotbox" for storage
It is not impossible to perform electrostatic demonstrations in a very high humidity environment. One secret is to build a "hotbox" storage device for your equipment. A cabinet with a tight-fitting lid can be heated with a small light bulb inside. Anything stored in this box will have its conductive surface moisture evaporated by the low heat. In a pinch you can heat your equipment in a trash can containing a light bulb. One science teacher revived a long-dead VDG machine using this method. WARNING! FIRE DANGER! Try different small lightbulbs to find one which produces approx. 110F heat in the box. Too large a bulb in too small a box can start a fire. Also, it is wise to mount the bulb near the top of the box. This makes it less likely that a flammable object will fall against the bulb.


Dessicant
It is also possible to use baked silica-gel dessicant instead of a lightbulb to dry the contents of a sealed case. If you can obtain a couple of pounds of color-change silica gel dessicant, placing the stuff in your box will lower the air's humidity and act to dry your equipment. The dessicant eventually turns from blue to pink as it gets full of moisture. Hours of oven-baking at low temperature according to its supplied instructions will restore its dessicating properties.


Dirt and grease
Occasionally wipe any grime from the vertical column of your VDG using a paper towel slightly dampened with rubbing alcohol, then dry the column thoroughly with the blow-dryer. DO NOT WET THE PLASTIC, it will cause instant cracking. Avoid getting any alcohol near the mounting screws on the column, since the internal stress in the plastic plus alcohol can crack the plastic. [Some people suggest using soapy water only, then blow-drying thoroughly.] It seems like grime builds up on electrostatic devices faster than on any other object. It's no illusion. Electrostatic generators create ion currents in the air around them, and this charged air in turn charges all the dust motes and air pollution particles, which then seek out any available surface. If you live in a big city, your VDG machine will quickly acquire a black coating as all the car exhaust is extracted from the air and coats itself on the machine!


Hi-volt Supplies Still Work
Sometimes the humidity is so high that no amount of debugging can fix your demo. In this case, sometimes a DC power supply can be used in place of a VDG machines. I have several 20,000-volt power supplies bought from surplus mail-order suppliers. They convert 24Vdc to high voltage. They will give a mild shock, but are not as bad as a Leyden jar. Another high-voltage supply: negative ion generators. These devices are actually DC power supplies having 10KV or higher output, but with large current-limiting resistance in series. Touch their output and you feel nothing, but connect the ionizer brush to a pop-bottle electrostatic motor, and it spins like mad. Negative air ionizers are pricey, but I see them for $5.00 frequently at garage sales.

Here's an electrostatic demo which will even work when submerged underwater! (grin) RED AND GREEN ELECTRICITY, This one works because no actual charges are involved. It's really a visual analogy for electrostatics, which uses red and green transparancies to simulate the + and - charge within matter. This article might not look like much, but I highly recommend that you mess around with the red and green plastic anyway. I would estimate that the depth and solidity of my own understanding of Electrostatics was DOUBLED by messing around with these simple plastic sheets.


Sharp dust-motes
One last possibility: if the voltage on your machine seems to drop suddenly during operation, try wiping down the sphere with a damp cloth. Sometimes your machine will attract a sharp, conductive dust mote which then spews charged wind. This presents major current leakage and partially shorts out the sphere voltage. With luck, wiping down the sphere will dislodge it.

So as you can see Kevin. I don't believe it will work?
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Old 04-02-2006, 20:24   #13
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In the San Blas, during the hurricane season, it is said that about 10% of the boats get hit by lightning.
We were there last season, and got hit.
There were about 15 boats at the same anchorage during a particularly severe thunderstorm. At least 5 of them got hit with variable damages ensuing: SSB, wind indicator (several), auto-pilot, radar, even some internal electric systems.
I asked several boats, those hit and some of their neighboors who didn't get hit, if their mast was grounded or if they had taken any other special protective measures.

The result was that most of those hit were grounded and several of those non-hit had taken no protective measures whatshowever.

We concluded that in the future, we'll leave our mast un-grounded (we had it nicely grounded when we got hit). Nobody could claim any protective measure was really working.

One thing is sure: when severe thunderstorm threatens and you are at the anchorage, try to physically disconnect all your antenna cables: that will at least prevent propagation to the inside electronics.

Cheers,
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Old 04-02-2006, 21:25   #14
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You failed to mention if your sailboat received any damage from that lightning strike. While being grounded?
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Old 06-02-2006, 01:59   #15
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Phewwww, look what happens when I am away for a few days sailing.
Folks, this is so complicated that not even all the scientist understand exactly to detail just why. Most have a pretty good understanding of all the principles. But a few left feild situations crop up every now and then, that blow the theories.

OK, Phorvati, the EMF's (electro motive forces) involved are many many times greater than what we mere mortals could produce with any genarator. Or you could look at this another way, if you could produce a voltage of that amount, you wouldn't be mortal anymore So no, you can't charge the mast.

The next issue, is that lightening generation in the atmosphere can be different polarities at differing altitudes. It depends on what the lightening storm is and how it was created, as to what parts of it are charged at whatpolarities. Hence lightening that never touches ground. And then lightening that does. So just what you boat will be charged at, depends on atmospheric situations.
If you can work out how to stop a leader from forming , you are going to become a very rich and famouse man.

Air, even if it is moist by the way, still is a very good insulator. If it has just traveled 50miles or more, the last 50ft of mast is like a dot within it's path. Humidity has little to do with the insulation properties of air, when in context to a lightening bolt.

The other point I am trying to make, the cable required to run down the mast to a grounding plate would have to be really thick. So thick, it just isn't practicle to run down a mast. Ummm, this is complicated. Lets look at it this way. You are going to try and make several million volts and several million amps which equal several billion watts, travel down a cable and into a plate to the Sea, or "Ground" in a Nano second. Folks, thats' one hell of a stunt. The result is, it just can't be done. Not in an absolute way. What current doesn't fit down that cable in a nano moment, will find other paths. So it shoots off to every electrical conductive component avaliable and will most likely fuse any wiring in it's path. Remember, a switch in an off position wouldn't even exist to a lightening bolt. It just traveled a gazzilion times the gap of that switch.
OK lets look at it this way. I ain't going to crunch the numbers. It's way past bedtime for me. But if anyone want to playat home and knows ohms law. Take say 100 million Volts and about the same in current. Now lets say we have a really heavey copper cunductor running down a 30ft mast. 30ft, hmmm, lets just say we have a resistance of only 1ohm. OK, try crunching that lot and see what the resultant disapation in watts that cable has to cope with.
Oh and with the current we are talking, It HAS to be a straight run. No bends wiggles, detours over cabin tops etc etc. This stuff doesn't like taking bends to well.

So to sum up, what am I saying. OK, there are two schools of thought out there. Neither are right or wrong. One is to isolate, the other is to create a path. Which one will work and if at all, depends entirely on how and with what you are hit by, and whether Jupiter is aligned with mars and if you were the sort of lad that pulled wings of flies etc etc.
To me, waving a long length of metal in the air in a thunder storm is asking for trouble. But making sure it is well bonded to the ground (sea) that could be highly charged in itself, is teasingwith the man upstairs just a little tooo much.
Now to throw another spanner in the works. If the zap don't get your electronics, then the magnetic induction will. Throwing everything in the oven may help and certainly can't hurt, but is it full proof protection?? the jury is still out on that one as well.
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